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October 11, 2011 / the s.a. project

Has Rio killed s.a.?

Journal page – Saira Ansari

Today, on the 10th of October, Step Across This Line: Art from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, opened at the Asia House in London. Here’s a glimpse from a journal I’m exhibiting, along with a video and text piece. I worked on the journal for 2 months every single day and at the end of it didn’t want to send it for the show! Deeksha Nath, the curator of the show, talked me back into it. (Deeksha was guest curator on the exhibition Younger than Jesus at the New Museum, New York which is super cool!)

Btw if any of my haters resurface to diss this drawing as talentless-non-art, I will kick your behind and show you my drawing/painting scores in NCA as well as my 3year-in-a-row-merit-scholarship to shut your limited brainwaves. If you are ok with such art, and still hate this drawing, please don’t tell me…I’m having a bad day… year century.

The artists participating in this exhibition are Naeem Mohaiemen, Wakil Rahman, Saira Ansari (me, me, me), Mehreen Murtaza, Abhishek Hazra, Priya Sen, Hasan Elahi, Unum Babar, Firoz Mahmud, Malik Sajad, Gauri Gill, CAMP and Asim Waqif.

Seems like it was only a few months ago I was complaining about being jobless and going crazy handling a truckload of idleness. People back home had told me (in good faith [methinks]): Leaving Pakistan will kill your career. Back then I had thought about it for…5 seconds…and then made up my mind: Fuck it, I’ll keep doing what I do and hope it takes me somewhere. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for me to get back into my ‘regular’ work mode, i.e. juggling 50 things at a time and making a bloody mess out of everything while still trying to make something coherent come out of it in the end!

As part of the multi-tasking, I’m now writing as the Arts and Entertainment correspondent for The Rio Times. It’s great fun since I get to see a lot of work and meet people and artists that I wouldn’t have ordinarily.

Reporting for a newspaper that has strict journalistic guidelines has taught me a thing or two about reporting – subtle differences that have almost become indistinguishable back home in Pakistan. Just like every gallery owner is now also a curator by default, the journalists have also morphed into art critics. It has resulted in a strange kind of dialogue coming out of our desi publications where some very good criticism is invariably compared with or emulated by those who have no idea what art criticism entails. More importantly, the artist (poor fella) now finds him/herself neck-deep in criticism-murk, trying to justify their work around an attack of words from all ends. This greatly hampers any real progress and damages the integrity of those who are trained and experienced in the said fields.

Brazilian artist Sonia Andrade

My current editor for one doesn’t encourage many musings on my part (bleeegh*) and although I thought this as a negative at first, I think it is re-programming me into being able to write objectively as well. But it is hard since I usually have loads of opinions about what I see or feel, as those who know me or follow my blog are well aware!

Most recently I have covered the Retrospective of Sonia Andrade. Named Brazil’s pioneer video artist, Sonia has been shown the world over since the 70’s for her ground-breaking and political videos. At an open discussion regarding Sonia’s Retrospective today, I had the opportunity to meet Cornelia Butler. Cornelia was the curator of the fantastic show WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles in 2007, which also showcased Sonia’s work. Cornelia is also currently the curator at Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

So much as I maybe swamped with the bill-paying job I do with a Pakistani company online, my own artwork, and the cooking and cleaning in the matchbox I live in, The Rio Times job just makes it so worth the extra effort.

And so I DON’T think Rio has killed s.a.! In fact, I think Rio is busy pickling s.a. to become a bit more experienced and more sour than she pretends to be!

Here’s a selection of art and music exhibitions I’ve covered in the past two months, ones that I have enjoyed immensely.

Miss Hybrid 4 by Shirin Aliabadi

Roll over mouse on images for descriptions and photo credits.






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The s.a Project turned 1-year-old in September and has received a tremendous response regarding subscriptions and page visits. It’s now crossed 22,000 hits in its first year. Over time it has grown to include artworks and views of students and young artists and has become a platform for sharing, venting or just merely indulging in their opinions.
The s.a. Project now has a Facebook page so that people may engage with the project and the blog posts in a more interactive way. The main feature and concentration will remain on the blog whereas the Facebook page will provide a social platform of sorts. I will be uploading old posts as well as new ones, along with news about my work and other art events, exhibitions, talks, publications and a lot more. And most possibly anything else I find interesting.
I don’t get paid for this (although I wish I did) and since the blog/project are part of my art practice, all opinions and ramblings are Mine. They can be quite critical sometimes but none of it is meant to have a hidden agenda or an ulterior motive. (All conspiracy theorists can now back off! But keep the hatemail coming. It makes me feel important!)


Leave a Comment
  1. Tanya Suhail / Oct 11 2011 11:02 am

    Well done Saira, keep it up and maybe by reading your coverage of exhibitions the reporting/critique may just improve here too. Rio cannot kill s.a. and new experiences always add to the growing up process. Totally envious of the fact that you are doing so much but very very happy for you! Congratulation on being part of the ‘Step Across This Line’ show!! Keep it comin’…

    • the s.a. project / Oct 11 2011 5:58 pm

      Dear Tanya! Thank you for dropping by and your words of encouragement!

      Also I don’t think I’m of the standard/level that can help others improve. But at least what is good is that my editor is a straight-to-the-point guy who tells me like it is. So if I’m messing up he says it and makes me fix my writing, and I’m learning through my constant mistakes. That’s the attitude we need back home. Constructive criticism. From the one in authority who must give it to his employees/students/peers even if they are his friends. And give it with a positive vibe to encourage improvement.

      And MOST of all we need a paradigm shift in the attitudes of those on the receiving end of the criticism. They must learn to take it without getting insulted all the time!

    • the s.a. project / Oct 11 2011 6:06 pm

      Actually I did have one such mentor for writing. The glorious master himself, I.A. Rehman. I co-wrote two annual reports of the HRCP under his tutelage. 😀 Best experience to date!

  2. Maria Khan (@MariaKhan16) / Oct 11 2011 9:12 pm

    so happy to know that the s.a. project is 1 year old yayy! congratz! so great. and we all love it.

  3. ussamanaveed / Oct 22 2011 11:36 am

    People Do make money off blogs you know! Its not that hard!
    Just saying…

  4. blueyd77 / Nov 1 2011 11:14 pm

    hi saira .. hey congrates … its great to know you are going places 🙂 … way to go girl ….


  1. Has Rio killed s.a.? | Tea Break

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